Drinking and driving has been a chronic – and deadly — problem on Montana’s roadways for decades. In 2008, Montana was ranked as the deadliest state in the nation when it came to per capita DUI-related traffic fatalities.
Law and policy makers responded with a list of changes to the Montana legal code, all aimed at ending Montana’s “culture of drinking and driving.” Some changes were monumental: Like banning for the first time open containers of alcohol in moving vehicles.
But Montanans continued to read news stories and watch television reports about Montanans getting their fourth, fifth, sixth DUIs – or more. We continued hearing the tragic stories of the cost of repeat, drinking and driving: Children left parentless, parents burying a child, two Highway Patrol troopers killed in a span of months, leaving behind families and friends.
Against this backdrop, the Attorney General’s Office proposed the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program in March of 2010. The program was initially run as a pilot in Lewis and Clark County.
Under the program, people accused of their second or subsequent drunken driving offense can be ordered by a judge to take twice-daily alcohol breath tests as a condition of their release from jail pending trial. Or they may be ordered to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet. Some offenders can also be sentenced to the program if they plead or are found guilty of DUI.
The results out of Lewis and Clark County were astounding: Out of thousands of tests administered, more than 99 percent came back clean. Offenders were staying clean.
The program is structured to have the offender pay the cost of the monitoring, so the program is essentially free to counties and taxpayers.
Bouyed by the success of the pilot program, the Attorney General’s Office took the idea to the 2011 Legislature. Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, and a sergeant in the Montana Highway Patrol who had seen two of his co-workers and friends killed by drinking and driving, carried the bill.
With broad, bi-partisan support, House Bill 106 passed and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in May of 2011.
The program went statewide in October. The Attorney General’s Office has continued to play an important role in helping counties launch the program. Currently, 22 counties are running the program and more have attended Attorney General’s Office training to launch their own programs soon.The statewide statistics continue to be enormously positive: More than 115,000 tests have been administered with a 99.7 success rate.
The program verifies what Montana judges have consistently required of DUI defendants – that they stay out of bars and places where alcohol is served and that they abstain from drinking. The 24/7 Program verifies that offenders are complying with judges orders.
It is simple, low-cost and effective.
This office has heard other success stories – stories from offenders in the program who report that 24/7 has helped them be accountable and more effective as parents and citizens.
That’s what we were hoping for.